Who was the big winner in Super Bowl LIII?
The city of Atlanta. No question.
Sure, the New England Patriots took home the Lombardi Trophy, meaning they are NFL champs for the next year. But the Super Bowl gave our hometown an economic boost that could last for a decade or more.
I recently spoke to Bruce Seaman, associate professor of economics at Georgia State University, about both the short-term and long-term financial impact of the Super Bowl.
Seaman believes this year’s Super Bowl likely had a much more significant impact on the local economy than Atlanta’s last Super Bowl back in 2000. I agree with that assessment. But I also concur with Seaman’s opinion that the immediate impact of Super Bowl LIII has been somewhat overstated.
The Metro Chamber of Commerce estimated Atlanta’s Super Bowl windfall at $400 million — about the same level of spending Minnesota claims it saw from Super Bowl LII. But there are some realities to consider when evaluating this figure.
Yes, the bars and restaurants were full, and the city allowed bars to pour until 4 a.m. True, entertainment venues sold out, hotels were booked at 99 percent capacity and Airbnb was rocking. Super Bowl merch was flying off the rack on every corner, and ticket reseller StubHub made a killing.
But much of this economic activity had little impact on Atlanta’s economy. Most of the hotel revenue, for example, went to chain hotels owned by corporations based elsewhere. Starwood, for instance, is headquartered in Stamford, Connecticut. StubHub’s cash spike flowed to its offices in San Francisco.
I’m skeptical of claims that Super Bowl LIII brought 1 million visitors to the city of Atlanta. That counting methodology typically includes each person who makes a “trip” to the event or related events. For example, my family alone went three separate times for three separate reasons: once to the NFL Experience with some of our kids, once to the Zac Brown Band concert at the Tabernacle on the Thursday before the game without the kids, and once more with the kids to see the bright lights of the downtown Super Bowl buzz. If you include all of our trips with and without the kids, the Moss family alone counted for a grand total of 12 visits! I know the Super Bowl is a big cultural event, but I think the math that gets us to a million folks is a little exaggerated.
In assessing the Super Bowl’s impact, we need to remember that a portion of Big Game-related spending simply displaced spending that would have happened without the Super Bowl. Many people who had planned on coming to Atlanta for business or pleasure in early February no doubt changed their schedules to avoid the hubbub.
Considering the above, I agree with Seaman’s estimate and put the Super Bowl’s short-term economic impact on Atlanta at roughly $200 million. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but it’s only 0.05 percent of metro Atlanta’s $385 billion gross domestic product.
No, the real value of hosting a Super Bowl isn’t a short-term cash infusion; it’s the unparalleled positive exposure provided by the event, and the economic growth fueled by that favorable coverage. Years of positive buzz is infinitely more valuable than a week of packed restaurants, hotels and Ubers.
If a decade of great buzz gives Atlanta a 1 percent boost in GDP, it would add $3 billion to $5 billion per year to the local economy, much of it from new residents and businesses that relocate from elsewhere.
Need proof? Consider the 1996 Olympics. If you talk with 10 people who have lived in Atlanta for the past 20-25 years, I guarantee a good portion will say the Olympics had some impact on why they chose Atlanta. I’m one of those people. I decided to move to Atlanta from North Carolina based largely on impressions of the city that I formed by watching the ’96 Games.
Now, I’m not saying the Olympics single-handedly fueled Atlanta growth over the past two decades, but our star turn on the international stage surely didn’t hurt.
Super Bowl LIII will likely provide a similar benefit to Atlanta in the coming years. Now we’re the town that has hosted an Olympics and two Super Bowls. That’s a world-class credential.
Of course, a city needs more than a series of one-off events to be desirable as both a hometown and a tourist destination. There needs to be a critical mass of attractions and activities available — a range of things that appeal to all sorts of people. Atlanta finally has a full menu of such places.
Back in the day, we were known predominantly for the World of Coke, which went flat, if you’ll pardon the pun. Now, we have the Georgia Aquarium, the new World of Coke, the College Football Hall of Fame, the Center for Civil and Human Rights, the Tabernacle, and a Ferris wheel.
These attractions, combined with our full menu of sporting events and excellent restaurant scene, allow Atlanta to attract a diverse crowd and provide a full big-city experience. I think we still have a little way to go — we need a music hall of fame and perhaps a few more museums to go along with Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the Georgia World Congress Center and State Farm Arena. But we’re getting there, and Super Bowl LIII shines a light on all we do have to offer. (Let’s just hope our state officials figure out a way to help ease the gridlock for visitors — and commuters — in the coming months and years.)
With our warm weather, Southern hospitality, diversity of culture and the all-around good folks you find in our glorious city, my prediction is that we’ll continue to rev the Atlanta growth engine for decades to come — not just a weekend.
Wes Moss has been the host of “Money Matters” on News 95.5 and AM 750 WSB in Atlanta for more than seven years now, and he does a live show from 9-11 a.m. Sundays. He is the chief investment strategist for Atlanta-based Capital Investment Advisors. For more information, go to wesmoss.com.
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